Chronic fatigue syndrome appears to be linked to a virus, but researchers say more study is needed before the cause of the mysterious debilitating illness is known.
Scientists found evidence that a type of virus known as a retrovirus was found in the blood of 23 of 30 victims of the syndrome. Many of their healthy relatives--43% of those exposed to sick adults and 29% of those exposed to sick children--tested positive for the virus, suggesting it is contagious, said head researcher Elaine DeFreitas of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia at a medical conference in Japan.
Retroviruses such as those linked with leukemia and AIDS are not casually transmitted among people, but this particular retrovirus may be an exception, researchers said. Twenty healthy controls showed no presence of the virus.
The findings may hasten treatment for the estimated 3 million to 10 million Americans who suffer from the syndrome, and vindication for those who were told the symptoms were all in their heads. Because it was widely reported among well-educated people in their 30s and 40s, chronic fatigue syndrome was dubbed "yuppie flu."
Chronic fatigue syndrome is often misdiagnosed because the symptoms are similar to other diseases. The symptoms, however, linger for months or years. The disease starts with flu-like symptoms and can develop into overwhelming fatigue. Other symptoms include depression, muscle and joint pain, headaches, fever, sore throat and memory lapses.